The Miracle of Sesame Oil

At the farmers’ market yesterday, I came accross this weird-looking, fat, white root. A fellow customer told me it was daikon, and that I should peel it, chop it up, and put it in a stir-fry.  I grabbed a purple cabbage, and was on my way to stir-fry deliciousness.

Along with chili peppers, herbs, and spices, I’ve been trying out some new cooking oils (also in salad dressings, but I don’t like to eat salads when it gets cold out).  Bittman has several very handy charts in his How to Cook Everything Vegetarian* which organize chili peppers, herbs, spices, and yes: cooking oils.  From this chart, and from prior experience, I thought that sesame oil might be the ticket for my delicious stir-fry. I wasn’t sure whether toasted or light would be more appropriate, so I grabbed the light for cooking, and the small bottle of toasted for drizzling. I figure, I’ll use it in other recipes, and in salads when it gets warm again.

Looking at the labels on “stir-fry sauces” in the grocery store, I realized that I already had in my basket all the ingredients needed to recreate them myself: soy sauce, garlic, ginger, brown rice vinegar, sesame oil (though one bottle of sauce actually used the cheaper and way less-healthy cottonseed oil. ick.).

On a last-minute whim, I grabbed a package of whole-wheat and buckwheat soba noodles.

At home, I prepped my veggies while my roommates made their dinners. The kitchen is pretty tight with four people trying to make a meal. Into the wok with 2 tbsp of sesame oil, onion, garlic, grated ginger, and the daikon; followed by some chicken, soy sauce, and vinegar. When the veg was soft and the chicken slightly browned, I tossed in cabbage, sweet pepper, pea pods, and sprouts and doused it all with more vinegar and soy sauce. Meanwhile, the soba noodles simmered.

At the beginning of the semester, a friend of mine and my roommate’s came over to make a Korean dish.  She said, “The deliciousness factor of this dish is directly proportional to the amount of sesame oil you drizzle on top.” Going with that advice, I drizzled some toasted sesame oil over my noodles and veg mixture. My friend was right. Delicious.

Later in the evening, I was curious about the nutritional aspects of sesame oil (and wanted to further procrastinate writing a paper). I found this really nifty site: Nutrition Data. It gives you not only the breakdowns of types of fat (super useful), but also different properties of the food like “anti-inflammatory” (or not), fullness factor, if it faciliates weight gain or loss (which I think is BS, personally).

Considering that I used 2 tbsp of oil in my stir-fry, I was a little alarmed at first to see that that accounted for 40% of my fat intake for the day. Oops.  But then one must note that I will get about 6 meals out of that single stir-fry. Maybe more. So really, that dish accounted for roughly 7% of my rec’d fat intake, and it was mostly unsaturated fats.

Looking at the profile for almond oil, probably my favorite experiment so far, you can see that it’s mildly anti-inflammatory in small doses, and has more monounsaturated fats than polyunsaturated fats (a good thing, also leads to the anti-inflammatory properties). Sesame oil is mildy inflammatory, and has more poly- than monounsaturated fats. Less-good. But still not as bad for you as, say, partially hydrogenated corn oil.

Around 9 pm, I started to feel a little queasy. Perhaps it was the inflammatory properties of the sesame oil, I dunno. I tend to get the same feeling after eating at the Korean restaurant on campus, so I think I may have a slight intolerance for sesame oil (sad, because it is indeed delicious).  But the inflammation factor is useful to think about if you’re asthmatic and have to worry about your lungs getting, um, inflamed, or if you’re sick, or if you’re trying to let your muscles recover from a heavy workout. According to the ever-helpful website:  As a general rule, Omega-3s reduce inflammation.

I’m liking this website– it seems to mix the standard FDA shtuff with a healthy dose of alternative/ holistic medicine. But of course, you have to take everything with a grain of salt, and figure out what works for you.

*I bought this book on recommendation from another website… far from being just a bunch of meatless recipe adaptations, it is chock full of interesting and helpful info on flours, sweeteners, and the above-mentioned herbs, spices, chilis, and oils. Also vinegars. Plus, it includes many, many basic go-to recipes for things like pizza dough, bread, pancakes, and even oatmeal cereal (for which I can never remember the water: oats ratio). I think the aim is to be healthful and to cook with whole foods… the meals just happen to lack meat.


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